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COMPLETE POETICAL. WORKS
AND CRITICAL NOTICE OF HIS WRITINGS.
LIFE OF WILLIAM COWPER.
WILLIAM COWPER was born on the 26th of November 1731, at Berkhampstead, Hertfordshire, of which village his father, the Rev. John Cowper, was rector. He was of noble ancestry, and many of his immediate relatives moved in the upper ranks of life. His mother, Ann Donne, a daughter of Roger Donne, Esq., of Ludham Hall in Norfolk, died when he was only six years of age, leaving two children,
- William, the subject of this memoir, and a younger brother, Jobn. Her affection and tenderness made a deep impression on his young mind. Fifty years afterwards, on receiving her picture, he dwells as fondly on the cherished features as if he had just mourned her death. He writes to his cousin, Mrs Bodbam, who had sent him the portrait“I received it the night before last, and viewed it with a trepidation of nerves and spirits somewhat akin to what I should have felt had the dear original presented herself to my embraces. I kissed it, and hung it where it is the last object that I see at night, and, of course, the first on which I open my eyes in the morning." His feelings, indeed, were all of the intense kind. “I never received a little pleasure from anything in my life," he writes; “ if I am pleased, it is in the extreme."
Few incidents of his early life have been preserved, and much obscurity rests on the circumstances which made him a stranger from his father's house almost immediately after his mother's death. Though his father lived to the year 1756, Cowper appears never to have lived at home, excepting for a brief period of nine months, when he was eighteen years of age.
When only six years of age, he was sent to the school of Dr Pitman, in Market Street, on the borders of Hertfordshire. Here he continued two years—a period embittered by the cruelty of a boy of fifteen years of age, “ whose savage treatment,” says Cowper, “ impressed such a dread of his figure upon my mind, that I well remember being afraid to lift up my eyes upon him higher than his knees; and that I knew him by his shoe-buckles better than any other part of his dress.” It is characteristic of the gentle spirit of the poet, that he refrains from mentioning the name of his persecutor.
In consequence of an affection in the eyes which threatened to deprive him of sight, he was sent to an eminent oculist in London, in whose house he remained until he was ten years of age, when he had so far recovered as to be able to attend Westminster School. An attack of small-pox, three years afterwards, completed the restoration of his eyesight. At Westminster he continued till he was eighteen, having acquired a considerable knowledge of the Latin and Greek classics. He was then apprenticed for three years to an attorney; but, in an uncongenial employment, and under a careless master, he derived few advantages from his situation. “I was bred to the law,” he writes; “a profession to which I was never much inclined, and in which I engaged, rather because I was desirous to gratify a most indulgent father, than because I had any hope of success in it myself.” “I did actually live three years with Mr Chapman, a solicitor," he says ; “ there was I and the future Lord Chancellor” (Thurlow) “constantly employed, from morning to night, in giggling and making giggle, instead of studying the law.”
It was at this period that he formed an attachment to his cousin, Theodora Cowper, the sister of Lady Hesketh, to whom so many of his letters are addressed. Though this affection was returned, obstacles, arising from her father's